White Bumps on Vagina

Some women can get really anxious when they spot white spots on labia. Mature ladies like me generally are pretty relaxed about these (this does not suggest we live a more blissful life, but we are experienced enough not to hit the alarm bell at the first instance of vaginal bumps). Indeed, any abnormal growth could carry the risk of cancerous cells but in the context of lumps appearing in vagina, they are usually harmless.

It is understandable that as teenagers get into adolescence, they start to get more conscious about their body and, specifically, their genitals. This period also coincides with the time they start to experiment with sex. It is no wonder that when they see the appearance of white bumps on vagina, it can induce moments of anxiety. This observation is just as applicable to more mature teenagers (but then again, which modern teenager is not anxious!)

These bumps are usually easy to spot. They can appear in lines or scattered around the anterior vagina, inner lips and further inside the vagina. They could vary in size but often are not bigger than a pea. You can do a visual inspection with the naked eye or perhaps with the help of a mirror.

The cause of concern varies from one woman to another. Some are worried that these could lead to the development of cancerous diseases while others are fearful that they could be on the receiving end of an STD (sexually transmitted disease), or a simple case of too much sex (as this period denotes the transition from girl to woman, or simply that they become more sexually active).

While a lot of these concerns are unfounded as mentioned earlier, sometimes, these bumps can be caused by a virus. One such virus is the human papillomavirus (HPV for short).

HPV belongs to the papillomavirus family, and it can infect human beings. Similar to all genres of papillomaviruses, HPV tends to manifest only in mucous membranes. There are some 200 variations of HPV known today but most of them do not cause any symptoms at all among infected patients. However, some do inflict warts (verrucae), and some others do bring about cancers on organs such as the anus, cervix, vagina, and vulva (among female patients) and cancers on the penis and anus for the guys; though it must be stated that such cancerous outcomes are rare. Additionally, HPV has been known to cause cancers of the head and neck (tongue, tonsils and throat) .

It is estimated that some 40 HPV variations are usually spread through sexual intercourse and affect the anogenital region, some of which could further develop into genital warts. Such "high-risk" HPV infections, if happening frequently enough, could lead to precancerous lesions and invasive cancer , a condition not commonly associated with those that cause skin warts. Invariably, almost all cases of cervical cancer can be traced back to HPV infection . Thankfully, the majority of these infections do not cause major diseases.

Most HPV infections that happen to young females are short term in nature and they often do not bear any health implications over the long term. Studies reveal that 70% of infections could disappear within a single year and 90% of these infections could be gone in 2 years . Note though that when the infection becomes persistent - roughly up to 10% of infected women could fall into this high risk category - the chances of contracting precancerous lesions of the cervix, which would ultimately lead to invasive cervical cancer, are more than doubled. However, the duration of such occurrence is typically required as being 15 - 20 years, providing a significant window of opportunity to detect and treat any pre-cancerous lesions. It is comforting to note that progression to invasive cancer could be avoided with standard prevention strategies, which effectively pre-empt the likelihood of this happening. However there is a cost to the lesions endured; often they require surgical intervention, which most probably means loss of fertility.

References:
1. "Genital HPV Infection - CDC Fact Sheet". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). April 10, 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
2. Schiffman M, Castle PE (August 2003). "Human papillomavirus: epidemiology and public health". Arch Pathol Lab Med 127 (8): 930 - 4. doi:10.1043/1543-2165(2003)127<930:HPEAPH>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 1543-2165.PMID 12873163.
3. Walboomers JM, Jacobs MV, Manos MM (1999). "Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cervical cancer worldwide". J. Pathol. 189 (1): 12 - 9. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(199909)189:1<12::AID-PATH431>3.0.CO;2-F.PMID 10451482.
4. Goldstein MA, Goodman A, del Carmen MG, Wilbur DC (March 2009). "Case records of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Case 10-2009. A 23-year-old woman with an abnormal Papanicolaou smear". N. Engl. J. Med. 360 (13): 1337 - 44.doi:10.1056/NEJMcpc0810837. PMID 19321871.